It started with an article by Anne-Marie Slaughter in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can't Have it All.” It was followed up by hundreds, if not thousands, of blog posts and comments, and most notably a response article by James Joyner in the same magazine, “Men Can't Have it All Either.” Those two articles are primarily about fathers and mothers in the workplace, to which a response has been issued by the singles of the world, “Singles Deserve Work-Life Balance Too.”
I'd like to add my two cents to the ongoing debate and whining. Oh yes, whining. See, I'd like to submit for debate that no one is ever going to have it all. It doesn't actually exist, nor should it.
This concept or idea that we (a category I will define as current-day Americans only. This is not a phenomena that I have seen spread around the world.) should have it all, or that anyone indeed does have it all, is a very modern, recent development. When in history has any other generation expected a “work-life balance?” Or that they should have a nice home, 2 cars, 2.3 children, a designer breed dog, an attentive and responsive spouse, family vacations, “me time,” and applause for their efforts at the end of the day?
Do you think George Washington came home after a busy day of crossing the Delaware River and expected Martha to rub his shoulders just before he disappeared for a long bath and a good book? Or maybe that's too much ancient history. Let's move farther up. Do you think the pioneers crossed the plains, settled their land, and then complained that the grass was greener on the other side of the valley? Or did they work for their green grass, putting in hours of tending the fields, inventing irrigation, and at the end of the day ate what they grew? What about in the 1950's? Did anyone ever have it all in the days of “Leave it to Beaver?” Ward went off to work, and June stayed home and worked. (You know Beaver never kept his room clean.) Did they complain they didn't have it all? Or did they keep working to keep what they had?
There is this sense of entitlement growing across the nation, and sadly, it seems to emanate from my own generation. People believe that “it all” exists. And worse, they believe they deserve to have “it all.” What is “it all” about? Work-life balance- where you work, but you get to play as well. Your personal life is just as important as your professional one. It means we all have equal everything, except not really. We don't really want what everyone else has. We really want everyone else to be status quo, while we have a little bit more. We want to make sure everyone has access to healthcare, but really we want our own healthcare to cost less. We want to be able to work, earn a paycheck, and go home at the end of the day knowing that Acme Company is still running and making money, while we run through the sprinklers.
This is a ridiculous concept. When has this ever worked? Has there ever been a point in history where civilization actually succeeded by not working?
There is no such thing as having it all. There is the perception that others “have it all.” It is the “keeping up with the Joneses” or worse, “keeping up with the Kardashians,” mentality that others have something we want. We think we know what they have, but how do we know we would really be happy with their choices? We perceive that they have something we want, and somehow over the past generation, we have convinced ourselves we are entitled to it.
We are not entitled to anything. If we want something we must work to get it. If our work effort does not earn it, that does not mean we should change the situation until we get what we want. Yes, there are many scenarios where that mentality works (I am not arguing against “out of the box” thinking). But women, men, and singles (and soon I'm sure we'll find articles adding in each individual race, age, sexual preference, occupation, etc.) will never have it all, because it doesn't exist.
Personally, I think this idea that “it all” exists is the result of marketing campaigns over the past 20-40 years. No generation ever before has actually had “it all.” And yet, they survived, they produced, and from what history has told us, they were happy. They didn't rely on pills, therapists, me time, and a work-life balance initiative, in order to succeed. They worked and they were happy.
This new dominant generation, the Me/Pepsi/X/Social Media Generation, will ruin itself with this mentality that they deserve to have it all, or that they will ever achieve it. We must stop ourselves and learn to be happy with what we have. We were raised in the “gimme” age of the 80s, and by the “devil may care” attitudes of our parents from the 60s and 70s. We are both a product of our upbringing, being told we could do anything, achieve anything, and that we deserved trophies when we didn't win, and yet we are also victims of our own greed. We believed the ideas that lingered from the previous decades and didn't stop to think it through. We need to stop now and ask ourselves what is truly possible.
Can we have it all? Does such a thing exist? Has history set such a precedent?
This generation has achieved a great many things. We are living in the dreams of the future. But there are still lessons we should learn from the past, and that includes the rewards and confidence that comes with hard work. We need to learn to depend on ourselves and reap what we sow, rather than expect that any amount of work will give us what we want.
And last but not least, we need to stop thinking in terms of what we “want” to have, and begin to think in terms of what we need to have.